Paying It Forward
On this hot
summer day, there was one more thing the midshipman had to do
before his long drive to Pensacola, Fla. Ens. Lee Amerine from
Paris, Ark., graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy on May 23,
2003, and today was his last day in Annapolis. His car was packed,
and he had a package to mail, but he couldn't leave without spending
a little more time with the folks in the weather-beaten red, rather
non-descript, one-story building at Lee Airport---the Navy Annapolis
Flight Center (NAFC).
recalls shopping around for flight schools earlier in the year.
"What I really liked about this training center is that they had
the best rates and, once I started looking at the roster, I knew
this was where I had to be." The roster he refers to is the flight
instructor list, a list of more than 20 full- and part-time men
and women whose cumulative aviation experience is broad-based
and impressive. Among them are veteran pilots from World War II,
the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm; active-duty
and retired Navy, Marine and Air Force pilots; a writer and editor
for Aviation Week & Space Technology; civilian pilots with more
than 1,000 hours flight time; a retired Army man who owns a jet
leasing company; a retired Coast Guard flight instructor; a former
deputy director of flight standards for FAA; an FAA examiner;
a recent Naval Academy graduate; and, finally, one instructor
described by his peers as a "walking legacy to aviation."
Says Ens. Amerine of the roster, "With several military officers
among them, these guys know the game. These guys are jet pilots.
A lot of the guys instructing here are what I want to be." Amerine
says he knew he would get the quality of instruction he desired
because he'd learn to fly from someone who had reached the goals
he had set for himself---from someone who had been there. "I'd
tell my little brother (also a midshipman) that 'I'm learning
to fly from a Harrier pilot,'" says Amerine.
Harrier pilot is Frank Kennedy, certified flight instructor instruments
(CFII), multi-engine instructor (MEI), and airline transport pilot
(ATP). Out of respect, Ens. Amerine calls him Col. Kennedy (though,
says the ensign, that is not correct by military protocol). Kennedy
is one of those guys who "knows the game" and, over the course
of his career, has flown T-2s, A-4s Skyhawks and the AV-8 Harrier,
the plane with a vertical takeoff---"very difficult to fly," says
Observing Amerine's passion for flying, Kennedy explains his own.
"I was sitting on the front porch with my grandfather in Biloxi,
Miss., near Keesler Air Force Base. A jet took off and then went
into an aileron roll, and I said to my grandfather, 'I want to
do that!'" So his grandfather went out and got his private pilot's
license and bought a Piper J-3 Cub aircraft. "I used to go flying
with him in the back seat of his little tail-dragger plane," says
Kennedy. "We used to land on the beaches of the islands along
the Mississippi Gulf Coast."
Kennedy says he "crop-dusted his way through college," went into
the import/export business for several years, then joined the
Marine Corps and retired out of the Pentagon in '98. He now flies
Boeing 747s internationally. How he makes time to devote to the
midshipmen like Ens. Amerine is anyone's guess, though Kennedy's
wife and daughter both say his home-away-from-home is the flight
Ens. Amerine explains it this way: "I think it can't be stressed
enough what the flight center does for the Academy. Frank donates
his time---driving out and picking us up. [In other places as
a student] I felt like I was just a number. Out here, I'm not
a number anymore." The bond between these two men, mentor and
protegé, is clearly one of fondness and respect.
Says Kennedy of the relationship, "There is no greater mission
we have in life than to transfer the talents and benefits of one
generation to the next. That's what we do [here]." Kennedy proves
the point. He says, "A flight instructor from the roster is one
of my products from four years ago. He's making me a grandfather---he
started as a student pilot and has now graduated his first student."
And the baton keeps getting passed.
It is, however, flight instructor Dick Linnekin who has the longest
view back to the beginning of the flight center, which started
with a group of faculty and officers in 1976 as the Naval Academy
Flying Club (NAFC). Linnekin has witnessed the Naval Academy Flying
Club over time in all its different incarnations, the most recent
being the Navy Annapolis Flight Center (NAFC).
Linnekin is the "walking legacy to aviation." Author of Eighty
Knots to Mach 2, Forty-Five Years in the Cockpit, he has had more
than a quarter-century relationship with the various NAFCs extending
to the present flying center. Says Linnekin, "There were military
flying clubs in all the services---used to be more---as a recreation
activity with some training aspects. Some of the military guys
felt that the Navy wasn't doing enough to prepare the midshipmen
for flight training---they used to go [to Pensacola] from a cold
start. We wanted to give them a leg up, get them some experience,
so we formed the flying club. Even from the beginning we had qualified
The Academy agreed to sponsor the club and, says Linnekin, "the
first airplanes were a couple of trainers built by Grumman Aircraft.
Our host was Friendship Flying Service, where we rented ramp space
and bought fuel. On some Saturdays we might have a car running
back and forth [from the Naval Academy] to Friendship. But," says
Linnekin, "the handwriting was on the wall that the south ramp
operation was going to be shut (a casualty of the long range expansion
plans for BWI Airport), so we approached the Fort Meade Flying
Club (FMFC). After sometimes delicate negotiations, the FMFC agreed
to share their Tipton Field spaces with the NAFC.
"Later, when the Academy withdrew its sponsorship," says Linnekin,
"the club...was picked up by NAVAIRSYSCOM [Naval Air System Command]."
Meanwhile, the Army had been having increasing difficulty keeping
Tipton Field as an active Army air field and, eventually, both
clubs moved into the present space at Lee Airport in Edgewater.
"We built these spaces," says Linnekin. "We co-existed. We reported
to different services, but we worked well together." When their
NAVAIRSYSCOM sponsor moved to Pax River, the flying club went
back to the Naval Academy for sponsorship. In the end, it was
picked up by the Naval Station Annapolis. And, most recently,
"when the Naval Station Annapolis pulled the plug," says Linnekin,
"Frank [Kennedy] and Jenny [Wong, now club president] formed the
present private/commercial outfit, Navy Annapolis Flight Center."
Wong is also a former student of Kennedy's. She says that flying
is something she had always wanted to do and started flying with
Kennedy in 1997. "He's been pushing me [ever since]," says Wong,
"encouraging me to go to my next advanced rating." So Wong got
her private license, then her instrument rating, her commercial
license, and her flight instructor's license.
Kennedy's passion for flying is contagious, and Wong, along with
Kennedy and the others, teaches the midshipmen as well. Over the
years, the flight center has had as few as 25 mids. There are
now approximately 100 midshipmen attending as students of the
Former student of the Navy Annapolis Flight Center, Ens. Armerine
said his goodbyes and was about to hit the road. Excited about
the future but reluctant to leave, he says, "They made me fly
more hours here. When I get to Pensacola, I'll have the best base
to fly off of---I'll be better at 100 hours than someone else's
But what Wong says makes her happiest is to get the phone call
from Pensacola from a former student who, referring to the F/A-18
or F-14 Tomcats, exclaims, "Hey, I just got jets!"
not wearing one of her hats for Inside Annapolis Magazine,
Carolyn Lee can be found paddling her kayak or working in